DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 03: Metta World Peace #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a shot as Andre Miller #24 of the Denver Nuggets looks on at the Pepsi Center on February 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
As the 2012 season ambles forward, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the Lakers have a bit of a chemistry issue. Kobe Bryant clearly isn't satisfied with the current roster, and expects the front office to make changes. To be clear, Kobe's statements hardly rock the boat, but they do communicate a certain displeasure with the overall roster (a displeasure 9 out of 10 Lakers fans agree with). Pau Gasol is not thrilled with how he's being used in the offense. The adjustment period to coach Mike Brown has not been smooth. And now, it appears Metta World Peace is becoming a problem.
Who saw that coming? Everybody. When the Lakers inked then-Ron Artest to a five-year deal, nobody was excited about years 3-5. We all recognized the likelihood that Artest would decline over the course of the contract, so it was always about maximizing returns in the early years. Since Artest certainly helped to deliver a championship in his first season, you could argue the gambit worked (though it remains unclear if the Lakers could have won without him and therefore not be stuck with him now.) And, though Artest's path to redemption has been amazing to watch, his emotional temperament was always going to be tough to manage if and when he did fall off the proverbial cliff.
So, in perhaps the least shocking developments ever, now-Metta World Peace is apparently unhappy with his playing time, and cites the fact that Mike Brown pays too much attention to those silly statistics which paint MWP in a bad light, instead of giving credit to MWP for what he brings to the table with defense and grit. Anonymous teammates think MWP is about to flip, and are ready for the MWP era to end. Of course, any talk of that era ending involves solutions which are hardly ideal. Unless Mitch Kupchak finds an idiot of a trading partner, it would be impossible to offload MWP for any kind of contributing piece unless he's attached to a deal involving some of the Lakers' more prized possessions. The next best option, amnesty, involves waiting until next season. The Lakers could theoretically tell MWP to stay away, effectively cutting him without officially doing so, but one has to imagine an actual outburst or three would be necessary for that to happen. There really aren't any good solutions, and that was always the fear in signing Artest to such a long deal.
But the whole situation is also a microcosm of what the Lakers as a team are dealing with. MWP is a proud individual, and the Lakers as a whole are a proud team. When proud entities morph into something that's not worth their own pride, the process of realizing their decline is hardly ever pretty. Empires, even short-lived ones, hardly ever go quietly into the night. Pride and grace just don't mix in this context. As long as the Lakers continue to play as a shell of their former selves, you should expect unhappiness, discord, and poor chemistry.
Of course, winning would solve just about all of these problems. The issues with MWP are more related to the individual, which means that in order for the problems to simply disappear, MWP has to play well enough to justify the playing time that would satisfy him, but there are no other outstanding issues with this team that couldn't be solved with a steady stream of W's. Despite their inability to do so thus far, the Lakers certainly have the talent and ability required to win. Even on the biggest stage, if everybody on the roster performs at their peak, the Lakers are a tough out for any squad. That is the advantage of having Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Because of them, the Lakers can never be counted out completely.
But, as the roster continues to age, and the games of evidence continue to pile up, it becomes increasingly unlikely that the Lakers will be able to find that magic formula which ensures consistent high level performance across the board. Margin of error is a luxury the Lakers are no longer in possession of. And as long as the Lakers remain what they are, a middling team struggling to make the playoffs, or if they deteriorate even further, you can expect the chemistry issues to continue to mount.
This is what it looks like when Rome falls. That doesn't mean the fall of our little purple and gold Rome is a guarantee, but we should hardly feel surprised if it does. The only emotion we should possess in smaller quantity is confidence.